Renewed calls for Bristol University to drop Wills and Fry names from its buildings

The Wills Memorial Building on Queen’s RoadThe Wills Memorial Building on Queen’s Road
The Wills Memorial Building on Queen’s Road
A student has criticised the campus names for being “reminders of the city’s slave trading past”

A Bristol University student has called for the educational establishment to change some of its building names.

Elinor Cole has written in Epigram, the University of Bristol’s student newspaper, that the change must happen due to the campus names being reminders of the “city’s slave trading past”.

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She gives buildings, including those named after the Wills and Fry families, as examples of those that should be renamed.

She wrote: “We are all aware of the 65ft Wills Memorial Building, residing at the top of Park Street, or the grand architecture of Wills Hall, a student halls of residence located in Stoke Bishop.

“As well as having university buildings named after them, the Wills family ran the tobacco company WD and HO Wills, with Henry Overton Wills III becoming the University’s first ever chancellor.

“What is less well known of the Wills family however, is that their success heavily relied on the exploitation of enslaved persons.

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“Even after abolition in 1833, WD and HO Wills continued to import slave cultivated tobacco for their products.”

Cole also notes how student residence Goldney Hall is named after Thomas Goldney II, who “funded and benefitted from a number of sea voyages relating to the trade of enslaved Africans”.

The Fry Building on Woodland Road was, she said, named due to the donations of the Fry family to the university, who “utilised slave-grown cocoa beans from the Caribbean for their chocolate business empire”.

She added: “Even the university’s logo, of which we have all become so accustomed to seeing, to some extent celebrates these figures - featuring a sun to represent the Wills family, a dolphin for the Colston family and a horse for the Fry family.”

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The university launched a consultation into whether it should rename some of its buildings in November 2022.

But Cole said the university’s response to the issue has been ‘painfully slow’. She continued: “According to the university, the data collected from the survey and events is being summarised into a report, where further ‘consultations and meetings will be made’. From this, the university’s executive board will make and implement a decision.

“Whilst we anxiously await the university’s final decision, we must remain positive about the conversations that this issue has spurred in relation to race and social justice.

“Great change is on the horizon and without the constant reminder of Colston, Wills, Fry and Goldney, the future is exceptionally bright.”

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A Bristol University spokesperson told BristolWorld: “No decisions have been made around renaming some of the university buildings following the consultation, with an update to be given as soon as they have one.”

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